If the vote for American League Rookie of the Year were taken tomorrow, the winner would probably be first baseman Kent Hrbek of the Minnesota Twins, whose secret is his ability to consistently hit the breaking ball well. Hrbek, the 15 th native Minnesotan to play for the Twins, hits for both power and average and last year had a .630 slugging percentage in the California League.
This year Kent has already hit 15 home runs and driven in nearly 50 runs in less than half a season. Both marks put him well up among the league leaders, and with Minnesota playing at a .235 pace that projects to one of the worst won-lost records in history, Hrbek right now is the closest thing Owner Calvin Griffith has to a franchise.
Kent's slugging success has also brought him quick respect from rival managers, as Don Zimmer of Texas showed the other night by ordering him walked intentionally with two out and nobody on in the ninth inning, even though he represented the tying run. The unorthodox strategy worked, too, when the next hitter went out.
The leading candidate for best rookie in the National League is second basemen Steve Sax of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Sax is so good at going to his left in the field that he reminds oldtimers of Roy Hartsfield, when he played for the Boston Braves. The difference is that Steve's range is almost as good to his right. He has also been averaging close to .300 as the Dodgers' leadoff hitter. And he plays with as much intensity as Pete Rose.